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by Nathaniel R. Helms | Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | Day Eight

Camp Pendleton, Calif. – Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major Edward T. Sax landed several heavy blows on the government’s battered and bruised case against Haditha defendant  SSgt Frank D. Wuterich Tuesday afternoon.  

“Wuterich was a great Marine,” he told the eight member panel of officers and senior non-commissioned officers intently watching the exchange between Sax and defense attorney Haytham Faraj.

Sax, considered by both the officers and man of the Thundering Third to be a Marine’s Marine, told the panel of officers and senior non-commissioned officers that Wuterich’s decimated squad did it right when they blasted through two civilian houses where 14 Iraqi civilians died after being ambushed at Haditha more than six years ago.

Initially, chief prosecutor Maj. Nicholas Gannon compelled Sax to explain the vast differences between the vicious, no-holds barred month long battle at Fallujah in 2004 and the situation in Haditha almost a year later.

“What we did at Fallujah was something we never did again. There they are… go kill them,” he said. “Haditha was not Fallujah. Those conversations got emphasized before we got sent to regain control of Haditha. This was not going to be Fallujah. We are not pounding them down with artillery.”

“If I haven’t received fire I am not going to use hand grenades.  We’d clear in a little different way.  Taking fire from a structure in part dictates how you are going to clear that structure.”

“If I thought I received fire I am now going to use hand grenades,” Sax told Maj. Gannon, who then asked him what was the correct procedure for clearing a house where civilians might be hiding after receiving fire.

“I’m going to frag the room before I go in it. It was taught right at MOUT training. If I’m receiving fire,  I’ve got to assume the house is hostile… if I send Marines in there they are going to get shot.”

Later in his testimony,  Sax got down to cases when talking about what happened on November 19, 2005 when one Kilo, 3/1 Marine was killed and two more seriously wounded by a remotely detonated roadside bomb that signaled the attack on a stunned squad of riflemen trying to take cover on a hard surfaced road that didn’t offer any.

“On November  19, Haditha was more like Fallujah?” Faraj asked during his cross-examination.

“Yes, I think it was,” Sax replied.

Sax said Haditha was considered hostile when 3/1 was sent there to wrest control of the region from the Al Qaeda-led insurgency following the thrashing the insurgents had given to a reserve battalion of Marines during its deployment. The difference was the insurgents were smaller in number and far less aggressive – being non-kinetic in Marine Corps jargon.

“Haditha was considered hostile because of what happened to 3/25. I think it was Lima, 3/25 couldn’t even leave the wire it had taken so many casualties from the same town, “Sax said.

Sax was the Sergeant Major of 3/1 Marines at both Fallujah in November of 2004 and Haditha in 2005. He has a reputation among veterans of the Thundering Third for showing up in the heat of battle to lend a hand where he thought his Marines needed a little morale boosting.  During the remorseless Battle of Fallujah – Operation Al Fajar/Phantom Fury – he was known to unlimber his M-16 and let loose with a few bursts whenever he got the opportunity, said many of the Marines who served there with him.

The colorful career infantryman brought a ray of sunshine into the courtroom after a morning of forensic testimony by two experts that explained what all the holes, tears and “evacuated skulls” in the dead civilians mean in the cold, hard light of science.  The forensic pathologists used their testimony to explain how photographic forensic interpretation isn’t the best way to determine how, when and why the men, woman and children killed that day had died. Essentially, they agreed, the Marines had been very thorough when they swept through two smoke-darkened houses in a vicious counter-attack that lasted seconds rather than minutes.

Sax’s testimony is central to the defense theory of innocence since the alleged massacre of 24 Iraqis was claimed by Time magazine reporter Tim McGirk in March 2006.

Sax offered several analogies to explain how and why Wuterich and his men acted the way they did when they assaulted two houses in the dawn of November 19, 2005. In his opinion Marines always return fire and counter attack when being shot at. Marines are trained to attack with all the force they can muster, he explained. They were taught to behave that way while in training. Like the others who testified before him, Sax barely gave lip service to the concept of restraint.

“You got to know your Marines. They are like your brothers; in combat they are your brothers. When a corporal makes his men clean the toilets with their tooth brushes and feel good about it… that is leadership.” he said. “Part of leadership is inspiring your men to do things they don’t want to do.”

Sax was particularly vocal about the treatment 3rd Platoon Kilo’s Marines endured while being questioned by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Several Marines testified they were held in a dungeon like room at the bottom of Haditha Dam where insurgent suspects were usually interrogated. They testified they had been questioned up to 16 hours straight without even being allowed to urinate.

“NCIS was interrogating your Marines, in one case one Marine had to hold his pee until he signed his statement,” Faraj declared.

Sax said that when he heard what was happening to his Marines he went to the NCIS special agents and told them, “If one of my Marines had to urinate they were to take their penis out and pee on the table,” he said.

“One Marine said he signed his statement just so he could pee?” Faraj asked.

“Yes, sir,” Sax replied.

Faraj then inquired in what other ways what happened at Fallujah was different than the events at Haditha.

“At Fallujah we double fragged [threw two fragmentation grenades] every room. “




Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
17 January 201

Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war correspondent, and, most recently, author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).


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© Nathaniel R. Helms 2012

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